As part of my evaluation at work, I have been asked to submit a statement of my teaching philosophy. You would think after 28 years of teaching I would either have such a statement, or at least be able to easily articulate what that philosophy is.
Sadly, I do not have a statement, nor am I able to easily articulate my teaching philosophy. When I mentioned to my wife that I have to write such a statement as well as write a blog tonight, she suggested I make my philosophy of teaching statement my blog for the day. A brilliant idea by my wife, but now it’s my job to execute on that idea.
So without further ado…
My Thoughts on Teaching
If I had to summarize my teaching philosophy in one sentence, it would be a variation on the Golden Rule.
Teach and treat my students as I would like to be taught and treated.
I have been fortunate to have been taught by many great teachers as a student, to have co-taught with several outstanding teachers, and to live with the best teacher I have ever met, my wife. Based on those experiences, there are certain characteristics I feel are essential to being a successful teacher. These characteristics include (in no particular order):
The ideal teacher would be strong along all of these dimensions, and I realize I am far from ideal. I would love to say that I am extremely creative or motivational in the classroom, but I have seen teachers who truly exhibit such traits, and I realize such traits are not my strongest suit.
If I had to select my five strongest traits from this list (self-perceived), I would have to go with Respectful, Empathetic, Humorous, Prepared, and Kind. I believe if I can succeed on these traits, they form a strong foundation for the remaining ones. As the saying goes, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I try to develop a classroom environment where every student feels welcomed and respected, not just by me, but by the other students as well.
I also try to expose students to issues that may have little direct bearing on the course content, but issues that I believe are critical for the long-term success and happiness of the student. I build into my class, as best I can, a few TED (and similar) videos each semester. These videos have looked at such issues as the link between creativity and education, the importance of “making good art”, the impact of body language on success, the puzzle of motivation, the importance of pursuing one’s passion, and the science of happiness. These videos are shown in both my Business Dynamics course as well as my Management Accounting course. I tell the students that while the videos may have little to do with what we are studying in the course, they may contain the most valuable lesson they will learn all year.
Since I believe strongly in the notion of pursuing your passion, I feel that one of my roles as a teacher is to help students discover and pursue their passions. That passion may be a career on Wall Street or with a Big 4 firm, writing a novel, raising a family, or finishing a marathon. To help students with this process, I have them (at least in Business Dynamics) create a vision board which is a visual collage of their life goals in the areas of career, personal, spiritual, and social. I then have each student present their vision board to the class. It is a great way to get to know the students, both for me and the other students, a chance to suggest what they might do to work towards those goals, and from a practical standpoint, get some practice with public speaking. Research also shows that you are more likely to achieve your goals when you share them with others. While I have not yet tried the vision board exercise in my Management Accounting class, I am doing it with my Cost Accounting students this semester. I think it will be interesting to see how a graduating senior’s vision board compares to a first semester freshmen’s vision board.
You may be wondering, given my mention of using class time for showing TED videos and vision board presentations, that there is no class time left for the actual course material. Such a concern may have been valid 10 years ago, but thanks to technology, my use of class time has become much more efficient, and I believe more effective as well. Textbook publishers’ tools such as Connect and LearnSmart from McGraw Hill and MyAccountingLab from Pearson have enabled me to shift a good deal of learning the material to outside the classroom.
I strongly believe that these tools help place the burden for learning the material on the students (as it should be), enabling them to learn the material more effectively. I can then use class time to concentrate on areas of difficulty (as identified by the learning software tools), talk about the real world applications of the material, and to focus on holistic learning through the use of TED videos and vision board presentations.
I also try and follow what I have heard is a learning approach used in medical school for many classes. I have all of my classes videotaped so that students can watch them at any time. I do not take attendance in any of my classes, and tell my students the decision to come to class or not is completely up to them. They are adults and need to learn time management and what is the best way for them to learn. There is also a management approach known as ROWE, the results only work environment. Workers are not evaluated on details such as showing up late or being absent, but simply on the results they generate. I think there is room for such an approach with college students.
Again, before you get the idea that nobody shows up for my classes, and when they do, that the class is complete chaos, the vast majority of students come to class every day. (If I did begin to notice a significant drop in class attendance, I would view that as a signal that I need to up my game in the classroom). The students are grateful for the video recordings for when they do miss a class because of an illness or interview, or when they are preparing for a test. I strongly believe every faculty member should take advantage of such a technology.
In summary, I try to take a holistic view of the teaching and learning process. Technology has enabled me to use class time to not only help students with the course content but with their personal growth as well, leading to better outcomes both in the short-term and long-term.
Note: I realize this is way too long for the actual statement on teaching philosophy I need to submit, but this post has enabled me to get my thoughts out, and now I can concentrate on making it more concise and thoughtful. Any feedback is appreciated!